Kilonovae and Science Fiction

kilonova

From Science & Technology, Oct 22, 2017

Space science is glorious in its beauty. Over the past century, scientists have created increasingly better technology to give us Earth-bound folks unforgettable views of distant stars and galaxies as well as a deeper understanding of what lies in our own system. If you are a fan like me, you get news feed from Space.com or Nasa for weekly updates of incredible visions in the heavens. Astronomy picture of the day (apod.com) also provides beautiful material.

This week was outstanding by even our jaded standards. We witnessed incredible encounter involved two neutron stars colliding. The event was the fourth gravitational wave to be announced and the first that involved objects made of matter instead of black holes. Because of this, it showed us aspects that were never before seen, including the formation of heavy elements such as gold and platinum. It may be planet-fixated thinking but I thought all the elements that were available now was all there ever will be out among all the galaxies. This week’s news implied even the creation of raw material like gold, platinum, and uranium are cyclic in nature. It also implied that the ring on my finger or the earrings I’m wearing might have come from star stuff billions of years ago. That is a really cool concept.

As you might know, a supernova occurs when a massive star dies. The star swells, becoming brighter then fades over weeks or months. The power produced is mind-boggling and destroys the nearby planets in the star’s system. It also generates a neutron star or a black hole.

A kilonova occurs between two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole. Keep in mind that a neutron star is super dense. A teaspoon of neutron matter is under such a high gravitational pull that it weighs in the tons range. You can learn more about neutron stars here but suffice to say, we won’t be landing on one ever. Or a person could land but never take off, breathe, or move again.

Novae are not frequent events so I can only speculate that kilonovae might occur perhaps once in several lifetimes, so watching this one was a tremendous event. According to NPR‘s “Astronomers Strike Gravitational Gold in Colliding Neutron Stars, telescopes across the world and in space all pointed themselves at this unexpected event. Some have said that it looked so much like the predicted model that some researchers felt a sense of déjà vu. The article also features an artistic rendering of what the collision looked like, including an outward blast of gold, platinum, and uranium.

From a science fiction standpoint, this collision of powerful stars boggles my mind. I can picture the 25th or 30th century equivalent of the 49er prospectors in small, scrappy ships hovering around a supernova or kilonova. With particle scoops dropped and opened and shields in place, they skim the debris cloud of newly formed elements. Riches await and fortune favors the bold who take on the danger of dancing across the nova’s explosive wake.

Men will always need raw materials and nuclear power sources. In the bright future of space exploration, they will cross the galaxies in mining ships, colonies, tourist excursions, and more, settling, excavating, hustling, and profiting from what nature gives us. In those ideas alone, good science fiction thrives.

But for a few moments in the tremendous time continuum, let’s take a look at the beauty out there and breathe in awe-inspired reflection of the enormity of space. Like the carbon cycle or the water cycle here on earth, elements are born, evolved, and consumed only to burst forward again to form planets, stars, and galaxies. Everything that dies, rots or rusts away is reborn. This cyclic power is fearsome, humbling, and, as proved with this event, quite exquisite.

 

Side note: Physicist Robert L. Forward wrote an excellent fiction book in the late 1980s about life developing on a neutron start in Dragon’s Egg, which is still available at Amazon.com. I loved this book because he got not only the physics correct, but he also did a great job with the biology and development of intelligence. I met Dr. Forward at a relativity conference in Dallas for a few moments. He is the only author of the many I’ve met over the years that I turned into a squealing fangirl for. I was that surprised and pleased to see him.

Fun Events and Writers’ Conferences

I love getting out and meeting new people at fun and/or professional events. Below are a few I’ve found, some in the NW Indiana area and some further abroad. If you know of other great ones, please feel free to let me know and I’ll list them.

Writers Conventions

Steel Pen Conference on Oct. 28th, Fair Oaks Farms, IN – Hosted by IWCthe Indiana Writers’ Consortium, this local conference is a great way for area writers to meet and mingle in a stress-free atmosphere. The keynote speaker is Catherine Lanigan, the author of nearly forty books. Ticket sales end soon, so check it out. http://www.inwriters.org/steel-pen-conference/

The Annual James River Writers Conference, Oct. 14-15 with master classes on Oct. 13. Richmond Virginia. They had 300+ people usually and a lot of famous writers and agents. I don’t know much more about it than that. The Master Classes fall along some unusual lines other than the usual “how to write” offerings. The website for James River.

Boot Camp Extreme Creative Writing Conference, Oct. 20-22, in Los Angeles, California – This conference combines with the Digital Author and Indie Publishing Conference for the same low price.  It features one-on-one critiques from editors and agents and agent pitching opportunities. The Boot Camp’s focus is on fiction, nonfiction and screenplay work. http://www.wcwriters.com/bcx/index.html for the boot camp and http://www.wcwriters.com/da/index.html for the Digital Author program.

Genre-LA Speculative Fiction Creative Writing Conference is coming in January/early February but the organizers have not updated the website yet. It is the only conference that I know of that specifically focuses on science fiction and fantasy writing. I’ll let you know more as I hear about it. For info on the 2017 conference, look here, http://www.wcwriters.com/genrela/index.html

Fun Events

Feast of the Hunters Moon, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, West Lafayette, IN – Local people know and love the Feast and it is the 50th year celebration this year. It is similar renaissance festivals only focused more around the late 1700s-early 1800s-time period. The festival celebrates the first European settlement in Indiana. The traders set up white tents for barter, fife and drum bands play, a cannon is shot off occasionally and local charity groups build firepits and earthen ovens to offer an array of traditional food. I love shopping there for old style clothes, leather products, blacksmith items and more. The homemade root beer is popular. It’s also fun and educational for the kids. http://www.crazycrow.com/site/event/feast-of-the-hunters-moon/

Chicago Dark Shores Ghost Con, Oct. 7-8, Lombard, IL- This year they are featuring 20 speakers and more than 50 vendors. Events include a Friday ghost tour, a Saturday costume bash, and a Sunday Illusionist performance. I enjoyed it a lot last year with the focus on not only ghost stories but movie and show previews and info on local hauntings. For those into the paranormal, this is a fun and exciting weekend of exploring beyond the grave. http://www.chicagoghosts.com/conference.html

Tesla Con, The Bucharest Bungle, Nov. 2-5. Middleton, WI. – Steampunkers unite to fight off monsters and show off their fabulous uniforms. The convention boasts three separate dinner nights, but the website lists very little else in terms of schedules. http://www.teslacon.com

Chicago Tardis 2017, Nov. 24-26, Lombard, IL – This Dr. Who convention brings together around 2000 fans to celebrate all things sicence fiction and time travel. Cosplayers are encouraged and guests include Colin Baker, the 6th doctor incarnation.  http://chicagotardis.com/trion/guests-2/

Con+Alt+Delete, Dec 15-17, Chicago (Rosemont), IL – The focus of this convention is anime, comic book, and nerd culture. They claim to be the perfect size so that visitors don’t get overwhelmed. The price is comfortable as well when compared to larger conventions of this type. https://conaltdelete.com/

In addition, a number of smaller science fiction conferences are going on throughout October and November. If you want to find one in your area, consider checking out this listing. https://www.upcomingcons.com/science-fiction-conventions